California eyes health care for immigrants in US illegally

California lawmakers are eyeing proposals that would make the state the first in the nation to offer government-funded health care to adult immigrants living in the country illegally

In September, Angeles finally learned she had gallbladder cancer. Serrano said she was in the hospital room when Angeles, in her late 60s, died about two weeks later.

"We don't know if she would have survived treatment, but she was not even able to access it," said Serrano, chairwoman of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium.

"She never had a chance to fight cancer."

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to spend about $98 million a year to cover low-income immigrants between the ages of 19 and 25 who are living in the country illegally.

The state Assembly has a bill that would cover all immigrants in California living in the country illegally over the age of 19. But Newsom has balked at that plan because of its estimated $3.4 billion price.

"There's 3.4 billion reasons why it is a challenge," he said.

The state Senate wants to cover adults ages 19 to 25, plus seniors 65 and older. That bill's sponsor, Sen. Maria Elana Durazo, scoffed at cost concerns, noting the state has a projected $21.5 billion budget surplus.

"When we have, you know, a good budget, then what's the reason for not addressing it?" she said.

The Senate and Assembly will finalize their budget proposals this week before beginning negotiations with the governor. State law says a budget has to be passed by June 15 or lawmaker forfeit their pay.

"Symbolically, this is quite significant. This would be establishing California as a counter to federal policies, both around health care and immigration," said Larry Levitt, senior vice president for health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

If enacted, it could prompt yet another collision with the Trump administration, which has proposed a rule that could hinder immigrants' residency applications if they rely on public assistance programs such as Medicaid.

The proposed rule from the Department of Homeland Security says the goal is to make sure "foreign nationals do not become dependent on public benefits for support."

"We're going to penalize the citizens of this state that have followed the rules, but we're going to let somebody who has not followed the rules come in here and get the services for free. I just think that's wrong," Republican state Sen. Jeff Stone said about coverage of people in the U.S. illegally.

Many immigrants who are in the country illegally are already enrolled for some government-funded programs, but they only cover emergencies and pregnancies.

Serrano was one of hundreds of immigrant activists who came to the Capitol on Monday for "Immigrant Day of Action." She and her husband spent the day meeting with lawmakers, sharing the story of Angeles.

"The conversation that I have is about the cost," she said, describing her interactions with lawmakers. "The conversation we want to have is about our families."

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